I’ve read the books and scoured the online message boards. It’s time to go straight to the source. Last week I spoke with a dog trainer who has not only been working with dogs for nearly 15 years, she’s been through the experience of bringing babies into her dog-centric family.
Tracy Pore is an experienced dog trainer in San Francisco. She spent ten years working at the SPCA and has been working for the last three years as the lead trainer at Bark to Basics, a small dog daycare in San Francisco. She also works as a private trainer, specializing in helping families help their furry friends through big life changes. These transitions include a move, bringing home a new dog, introducing a cat, and, of course, adding a baby to the family. I spoke with Tracy last week to get her expert advice on why dog preparation is necessary during pregnancy, and the best ways to go about it.
In Tracy’s words: “Dogs thrive on structure, routine, consistency, and positive feedback.” When a baby enters the picture, she brings with her new smells, sounds, and, of course, new behaviors on the part of the humans. Even during pregnancy, parents act different –- mama may be too tired or nauseous for regular morning walks. Daddy may be busy getting the house ready. The dog may find his routine greatly disturbed.
Tracy recommends taking the proactive route. Start early to address any behavioral issues now, before the baby arrives, and prevent any potential problems before they happen.
According to Tracy, the No. 1 best way to foster a positive dog-baby relationship is to do your best to make sure that the dog sees the baby as a positive change. That means making time around the baby (or around baby smells, sounds, or furniture) fun for the dog, with lots of delicious treats and praise, especially at the beginning.
Another way to make the whole baby experience a positive one is making sure to include the dog instead of excluding him. Kicking the dog out of the room when you’re getting ready for the baby, or when the baby is around, will hurt both your relationship with the dog and, ultimately, the dog’s relationship with the baby. If the dog starts to associate the baby with unpleasantness, that’s where problems can start.
Tracy breaks down baby preparation into three steps:
- Relearn basic manners and appropriate behaviors.
- Prepare for the baby’s arrival by acclimating the dog.
- Introduce the baby and dog in an appropriate way.
We’ll be discussing step one in this column, and tackle two and three next week.
Step One: Relearn basic manners and appropriate behaviors
This should begin long before the baby’s arrival. Three or four months in advance is a good time to start, especially if the dog has a lot of learning to do. The manners that Tracy stresses are behaviors that will make life with a baby much easier, for both dog and humans, such as:
- No jumping — Many dogs, especially small breeds (like Rusty) enjoy greeting people at the door by jumping up to be closer to eye level. When Rusty does it now, I find it kind of charming, but I can imagine that when I’m carrying a diaper bag, a car seat and a baby, this could be quite problematic.
- Go to your mat –- This is one we do not currently use with Rusty, but Tracy suggests that it’s a great command to keep the dog off your lap during nursing time or while trying to get the baby to sleep, but while still keeping the dog close and helping him to feel like he has a place in the situation. This can also help solve the jumping up problem.
- Leave it/drop it –- Ever notice how baby toys and dog toys look practically identical? These commands will help keep your baby toys free of dog slobber. I wonder if babies can learn this too in order to keep dog toys free of baby slobber.
- Don’t bark at the door or doorbell –- A dog can learn that the doorbell is a cue for him to go to his matt, or to sit quietly. This is especially important with the number of visitors coming over to meet the baby.
Other important commands to learn (or brush up on, in Rusty’s case) include sit, stay, and come. It’s also important to teach the comfort of crate or dog bed sleeping (to get the dog out of your bed, which is about to get very crowded).
If your dog is anything like Rusty, he learned most of these behaviors back in training school. But, if you’re anything like me and Wes, you haven’t quite kept up the daily routine of practicing all these behaviors. Rusty is certainly, well, rusty when it comes to consistency with most of these tips and manners. So it looks like we have our hands full with step one for now.
Next week, I’ll cover Tracy’s tips for steps two and three.
Did I miss anything that you want me to ask Tracy? Let me know!
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